Two very successful and very powerful women, Shonda Rhimes (creator of the television shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal) and Indra K. Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo) have recently been in the news for announcing that you can’t “have it all”.
Honestly, the phrase having it all is becoming as nauseating as being here for the right reasons on the Bachelorette. It really should become the new drinking game for women in their 30’s. Another CEO comes out of that hideous self-and-society-imposed guilt closet and announces you can’t have it all? Take a shot…
My first response to these famous women was, “duh.” But then I really started thinking about it. When was the last time you heard a commencement speech at an Ivy League school given by a man at the top of his profession that centered around not having it “all”? Let me save you the Google search, it hasn’t happened.
The phrase and concept of “having it all” is a strictly female phenomenon. We do it to ourselves, and we do it to each other. I always felt slightly insulted when a female medical student would tell me that she would never choose surgery as a profession because she wanted “a life”. I know they didn’t mean it personally, but it implies to me they believe I don’t have a life. I then started asking them, how do you define “a life”? Because I’m pretty sure most people have different definitions, based upon their personal goals, personalities, and hobbies. For example, one of my friends enjoys running 20 miles a week and this is fulfilling to her. On the other hand, if another one of my friends even looks a treadmill she gets nauseated. One friend gladly left her office career to stay at home upon the birth of her second child. Another friend is just as gladly returning to work full time after her 3 month maternity leave. This then leads me to the title of this piece.
What is “all”? Who is responsible for simultaneously defining this and holding us up to this unicorn of a standard? Is Shonda Rhimes’ or Gwyneth Paltrow’s “all” the same as mine? Or the same as a single 30 year old woman? Or the stay at home mother of 3? I would bet my paycheck that the answer to that is no.
The phrase “having it all” implies to me having a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life. The reason that I am proud to say that I do have it “all” is because I choose the definition for myself. My roles as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and physician lead to my sense of fulfillment. The time that I allot to each role in my life changes daily and sometimes drastically so, but the roles are always there. When I am at the hospital, I am still a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend. My husband and child don’t disappear when I go out for a girls’ night. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how missing an occasional bath and story time at my home means I am “failing” as a mother. This isn’t failing, people, get a grip! This is life. Things happen. Workouts get skipped, dinner occasionally gets picked up in a drive through, and sometimes you just have to wear bikini bottoms as underwear because you are behind on laundry.
The people in my life, and the joy these relationships and my work as a surgeon provide are my “all”. I refuse to let Pinterest, Shonda Rhimes, or anyone but me set the definition for what my life is supposed to look and feel like. I encourage you all to do the same. Whatever floats your boat is fine, it is your boat to float. Say goodbye to someone making you feel guilty (including yourself!) for not being able to squeeze 26 hours out of a day. Let’s stop saying we don’t have it “all” because we didn’t bake a dozen cupcakes, do 3 loads of laundry and accomplish another 1,000 tasks before breakfast. So, f&*! the unicorn that doesn’t exist, and embrace the awesome, amazing, thoroughbred horse that you are.
Love this piece. Yes. Yes and yes! Who are they to define what we need in life and judge whether we are good enough. For those of us who chose to have it all – hooray for us! 😀
Love this post
Well said, well said!!
Have you listened to the CEO interview in its entirety and the entire commencement address?
– The CEO recalled the night she wanted to share her appointment with her (very old and traditional Indian) mother. Before she even enteted the house, her mother told her to go get some milk because she forgot to ask the help & considered her son in law too tired from the task as he worked all day. She said and I quote” In this house, you are a wife, a daughter and a mother so leave that crown [high level executive at PepsiCo] outside”.
She also recalled one of her parental technique and a conversation between her assistant and her daughter. When her daughter would call to ask if she could look at the TV, her assistant had to go through a checklist before granting her permission and then report to the mother CEO.
I think we can all agree that having to put such mechanisms in place can be distressing for the mother… same as realising that within her family life, no one cares about her job and how awesome it seems to other people. They care about the very late nights, the travelling and having to bargain with an assistant to watch TV… I don’t see het sharing her experience as wanting to define for us what having it all means but… I doubt anyone who wanted a child would be comfortable with many of the sacrifices she had to do and many of the trade off sje had to make. For an aspiring mom like I am, it feels good to know that it is okay to not live up to our own expectations as a mother. I also dare to say that this is why mom-doc bloggers, lifestyle-doc bloggers and the likes are popular. They show us, wannabe surgeons, that we can have all those things together but not all of them at the same time so in a way, your blog is also a reflection of “not having it all” 😉
“it’s your boat to float” and the bikini bottom comment are both very nicely put. As a mom, wife, and Ob/Gyn, I can very much relate and I LOVE knowing other folks in medicine recognize that it’s up to each of us to define our “all”.
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Reblogged this on Salwa Sidahmed and commented:
I’ve been career focused for the past 10 years of my life. Now it’s changing into “working wife, and probably mother soon”. Statements like this are uplifting.
Thanks for the reblog!
Oh i love this post. I am currently applying for surgical residency in my country Kenya where female surgeons are only 3!!! I am already married with 2 kids and people keep telling me how i wont be able to balance them all, saying things quit similar to “u cant have it all” but i just decided to go ahead and follow my dream and i know i CAN and WILL do it!
Reading this post has encouraged me even more. Thank you so much
Enjoyed your post. Good ideas.
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